Septicaemia is a satirical song written several years ago. In light of current events I have decided to post the original lyrics in verse form. The lyrics have been adapted slightly for readability, although I have made some attempts to punctuate the verses according to the original phrasing. Having only just discovered an early recording of this I have found the sung version varies slightly!
Septicaemia; a cautinary verse
Septicaemia last September now seems simple so they say, and arthritis might as, well be something they’re sure to cure some day. But with each small step, each leap of science, with each new drug and hi-tech appliance comes a cost that will take your breath away.
The chaps in charge (who know best), and who decide or not, where they invest, say now that the NHS, is too expensive, and suggest something radical and extensive.
So lets take a step back to the future with every small stitch and simple suture to find a solution sure to suit your pocket. Lets row that boat, let’s rock it!
Give us something great! Give us something super! Let’s sell the whole damn lot off to Bupa. Add hospital and hospitality; Gourmet meals, designer saunas; Balance sheets cutting hospital corners. Let’s cut the crap and face fatality. Who the hell said health should be free?
No need then to say sorry for some poor sod stuck on a trolley. Just end the heartache and the folly NOW! Lets just cull that sacred cow. It won’t matter how long you stay as long as you, are made to pay for every bandaid and small blue pill – don’t even think of getting ill!
So write that cheque, and make it payable, and you’ll be on that operating table just as soon as funds become available. Their waiting lists are never full! With whatever modern medicine can discover (and as long as your insurance can cover) you’re sure to recover… soon. Lets just leave the poor in the waiting room!
Down with subs was going to be a rant about the explosive growth of subscriptions which have spread like weeds throughout every aspect of modern life, but on digging a little further I realised the shortened word for subscriptions; subs, went even deeper.
One thing I love about the English language is its plethora of puns, innuendos, ambiguity and little tricks of pronunciation, punctuation and spelling. With total disdain for its parents; French and Latin, it invites friends and (subdued enemies) in from around the world to pillage and subvert their vocabularies to its own ends.
SUB, though is hardly a word, being a prefix. Its not a TLA and, isn’t even really an abbreviation. “Subs” can mean very different things: I did a bit of research and looked at the top 4 uses of “Subs” (in no particular order)
Down with subs.
Das Boot? Hunt for Red October? Smelly bearded men in polo necked sweaters? Tom Clancy novels? Originally an underwater boat (U-boat) or submersible. A submarine; H.L Hunley was the first used (successfully) to sink an enemy ship during the American Civil War. The crew unfortunately failed to anticipate the future development of depth charges and blew themselves up along with their target. The notoriety and hatred of German U-boats in WWII from the British side belies (ideology aside) the incredible bravery of the German U boat crews who suffered an appaling 70% casualty rate.
A few years back I was able to look around a Russian Foxtrot class nuclear submarine in Folkestone harbour and was desperate to get out after only 20 minutes.Tied up to the harbour and with the hatches open (and nobody tying to kill me!), it seemed unbelieveable that a crew of 70 could live in something the size of a London council flat for months at a time, underwater! Apparently my feelings not were uncommon amongst conscripts to the Soviet navy which gave conscripts the unique option to opt out of submarine service.
The prefix sub is from Latin and basically means Under, or lower, beneath or inferior to: Rulers have subjects, Army officers have subordinates, contractors have subcontractors, commitees have subcommitees, and so on. It can be a sneaky word as in subterfuge, subversive or subliminal. It can be dark and scary as in subterranean, submarine or subhuman. It can imply surrender or abatement as in submit or subside. The level below which survival is unlikely is the subsistence level.
2 Subway Sandwich
A roll or baguette stuffed with any number of implausible ingredients has come to be called a sub. Imported form the US this term refers to its submarine like shape see above.
In the UK a subway generally refers to a dingy, unsavoury tunnel under a busy road. Inhabited by lurking ne’er-do-wells, pungent smells and gloomy graffiti. The subterranean railway system is simply “The underground” or The “Tube”
Subs: 2 Substitutes
“I’m a substitute for another guy I look pretty tall but my heels are high The simple things you see are all complicated Look pretty young, but I’m just back dated, yeah…
A sports player nominated as eligible to replace another after a match has begun.
“In team sports, substitution (or interchange) is replacing one player with another during a match. Substitute players that are not in the starting lineup (also known as bench players, backups, interchange, or reserves) reside on the bench and are available to substitute for a starter. Later in the match, that substitute may be substituted for by another substitute or by a starter who is currently on the bench.” Wikipedia
Bit lazy with this one – sport isn’t really my thing!
Subs 3 Submissive
Dominance and submission is a set of behaviours, customs, and rituals involving the submission of one person to another in an erotic episode or lifestyle. It is a subset of BDSM. This form of sexual contact and pleasure has been shown to please a minority of people
Go on, look up your own links!
Subs 4 Subscriptions
Down with subs.
Which gets me back to the original subject.
It used to be that you paid a subscription to a club, or society, possibly to a magazine, (thus avoiding the tedious monthly walk to the newsagent). Club subcriptions were usually annual and preceded by polite reminders followed by less polite ones.
Licence to bill
Once upon a time there were two BBC TV channels for which you paid a annual licence fee which was compulsory. Later this was expanded to three channels and much later to four with the addition of commercial stations, which supposedly paid for themselves through irritating adverts, although you still had to buy a licence.
TV licence vans cruised the streets and with sophisticated Radar equipment could pinpoint the exact location of any TV set being watched without a licence.
In reality There very few of these vans were actually functional; The equipment was very expensive and very heavy, being RAF surplus left over from the 1950s. I have it on good authority that the vast majority of these vans were decoys, with simply a bloke sitting in the back turning a bent coat hanger through a hole in the roof of the van.
Later came Satellite TV and the the fuse under the subscription powderkeg was lit on the back of the British (mainly males’) obsession with football.
Fast forward to the Internet and suddenly you had Internet providers, Domain name registrars, hosting, email, downloadable music, film and then Mobile phones and then smart phones that gave you access to all that had come before. All this was slowly added to the ever increasing pile of what were still rather quaintly called “bills”. The monthly cost of each was “only £xx! – that’s only xxp a day”
Conscription to subscription
In Britain privatisation of everything that wasn’t nailed down led to a screwing down of the public with incomprehensible contracts. These contracts were formulated to make to Dr Faustus signing his soul to the devil or Beau Geste joining the French foreign legion seem as simple as signing an X in box on election day in comparison. Twelve month contracts, eighteen month contracts, 24 month contracts…. many dangled the carrot of “First three months free!” whilst concealing the big stick of early cancellation charges.
No more buying a computer program or game, loading it into your PC and using it for free until the next Windows operation system made it obsolete – subscription! Games have seasonal passes, Apps and programs and plugins have monthly fees. We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV and a countless horde of other streaming channels – all monthly subscriptions. We still have to pay a TV licence for those first two BBC channels, although this can now be done …. monthly.
The pandemic has driven us all much further online than we have ever been before, much to the delight of hackers and scammers. Be not afraid! for only £xx a month (xxp a day!!) you can protect your PC, games console, mobile phone, domestic appliances and even life! (you will still have to die, but at least someone else will then be able afford to pay your subscriptions until the end of the contract)
Once upon a time inky fingered small boys and girls would gather in large unheated rooms and sit at uncomfortable wooden desks. The desks would be arranged in neat rows with military precision by stony faced teachers, not long out the army and with an almost uniform disdain for inky fingered children of any gender.
The desks were battle scarred with the carvings of countless generations, each with an dutifully filled inkwell and placed well out of reach of the next nearest desk and its fidgeting occupant. Not out of any regard for social distancing (something for the distant future) but to prevent the passing of notes, cheating and assorted tomfoolery.
For this was the annual ritual that marked the rite of passage allowing ones advancement up the educational ladder; The Exam.
Pens would be checked for leaks and filled if required, sheaves of paper would be handed out and one ominous leaflet would be placed ceremoniously face down at the top of the desk. With a last theatrical look at the large clock at the end of the hall the invigilator would announce that this could now be turned over.
After a few minutes to digest the horror of its contents the hours of wrist achingly fast, and in most cases virtually illegible scratching would commence. Brains emptied, some sooner than others, ink was spilled and bottoms went numb. The papers would be gathered up and the agonising wait for the results would begin.
The marking would be done by teachers, mostly humans, and would come back with comments marked in aggressive red pen strokes. These would point out mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation and facts. They would also serve as guide to the markers frustration, dedication and in rare cases inebriation. They could be witty, pithy, gently chiding or even downright facetious, depending on the temperament of the teacher.
They were a subjective assessment by one individual on the capabilities of a certain student at a given moment in time. Debate would rage in the days preceding the results. Was it better to be at the top of the pile of papers to be marked or the bottom? Who would do the marking? and was it too late to run away to sea.
For generations this system prevailed, from school and university to job applications, letter writing and the whole grown up world of form filling.
This has changed. We have PCs, mobile phones, the internet, word processors and keyboards. I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything in longhand and can’t easily read anything I wrote 40 years ago. I am the stabber of the backspace, butcher of the cut and paste and wizard of the spell checker.
The lack of any need to write flowing handwritten documents of any great length or in any great speed has certainly led to more concise and legible writing, but to a certain extent this is at the cost of style and personality. Journalists and writers still value a bit of the old waffle but for most of people writing anything longer than a shopping list is for books, and then subsequently to a film or TV series. Our use of language has changed and our handwriting has become more similar to type with a uniform style that is not the fingerprint of our personalities that it used to be.
Remember that poor old sod who had to mark a towering pile of exam papers? Or the manager who had to wade through hundreds of indecipherable, totally inappropriate and in some cases, written in crayon job applications only to realise that the job description itself was unintelligible?
Algorithms gonna getcha
This is now a thing of the past thanks to that scary new little invention; the Algorithm.
Well no, its not that scary. It isn’t very new, and it isn’t really an invention. Its not a formula or microchip or patentable bit of software. I was thinking probably Alan Turing?, Bill Gates? or Albert Einstein? No, it turns out to have been credited to, and named after, a 9th Century mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī . No. I don’t quite get that either but apparently if you Latinize his nisba…
It appears that algorithms are simply a set of rules to solve a problem, a method, recipe or a set of protocols – in fact everything you need for latinizing your nisba.
Computers thrive on them and they are the building blocks of computer software which is where the poor old teacher marking the exam paper comes in.
The SEO must go on…
If you can control the way information being given you is presented, and you have a list (or database) of likely responses, can add in a few unlikely ones and a list of wrong ones, you can essentially do away with the irksome human editing and selection process. Let a computer feed the whole lot through a virtual sausage machine of algorithms. The magic of this is the computer will keep a record of all the input information and its previous responses and will have an even bigger list to compare the next time round! Use the computer to phrase the questions and process the answers! Fire and forget!
And that’s why they call it the Blues
And now to the blues. The holy grail of having a website is getting that short blue link to your page as near as possible to the top of the search engine listings. The trick to this is search engine optimisation or SEO.
In the beginning this was the preserve of crafty, geeky people, who managed to stay only a few steps behind the search engines, guessing what they wanted to see and feeding it to their algorithms in dollops of meta tag goodness. These SEO gurus claimed to have the secret to how it all worked, seemed to be getting results and the idea slowly filtered its way through to the general populace. For years people had known how to get a favourable score from magazine surveys, could sneak through customs with all the right boxes ticked and blag their way through a job interview.
The difference now was that charm, a way with words and confidence only really works with people. You can assess people, manipulate people, smile at people, even draconian school teachers. None of these things work with algorithms.
There are now SEO programs bulging with algorithms that go through your webpage and tell you what you’ve done wrong! A virtual red pen marks every spelling mistake, grammatical trip and misplaced punctuation mark. It will tell you your sentences are too long, your words aren’t the right ones – why don’t you just write about something else? It will even give you a final score and a “could do better”. In short we are back to the handed back exam paper but without the imaginative human nuances and vitriol.
Serfs of the Internet
Meanwhile away from this this Game of Drones and the massed armies of rival algorithms battling it out for link placement, the commercial world has taken heed. Job vacancies are listed now online, have to be applied for online, filled (or at least shortlisted), or rejected online. Very few humans will ever even read your C.V. A handful of corporations deal with pretty much all of them and their algorithms are very, very good at turd polishing.
So, if you have a passion for stock replenishment, enjoy the challenge of a rewarding and fulfilling career as a senior stock replenishment operative, are a team player with good interpersonal communication skills and able to meet your line manager’s targets in a timely and responsible fashion this could be your dream career! Generous and competitive salary package to the right candidate. Option to work varied and flexible hours, and numerous staff benefits.
Read: Night shift shelf stacker required. minimum wage. may be required to do other duties and work extra shifts at short notice. Limited use of vending machine.
Success in applying for these jobs is simply a matter of regurgitating the “keywords” into the required “fields” and pressing submit. No waiting. by the time you have closed down your PC your application will already have splashed ashore and been mown down by the machine gun emplacements of the Algorithms. and that’s it – MIA – you will never know.
Are our sentences getting shorter? are we using fewer and shorter words and repetitive “Calls to Action”?
Clicking on the more successful search engine query links would suggest so. The content is spread thinner than the filling in a convenience store sandwich and as for the ads at the top, any relevance to the search query has been thrown out the window quicker than the bag of money was thrown in. Think of a word, any word, type it in and you can be sure any number of retailers will have the best price and selection ( and free delivery!). I have yet to find a legitimate word that fails!
If acknowledged great works of literature were fed into the SEO mincer I wonder what the results would be? Did Tolstoy use the key phrase “War and Peace” enough times? I suspect repetition of “the count” would get him into trouble. I have read some best selling authors who are a little too fond of cutting and pasting but if you’re churning out books the size of breeze blocks every year or so it is probably forgivable
Less forgivable are politicians. Appealing to the voters doesn’t mean talking to them as though they were too young to vote (or indeed tie their own shoelaces). I remember when interviewing young children about grown up topics made entertaining television:
Interviewer “So Johnny, do mummy and daddy ever worry about nuclear war? Johnny (7) “Daddy says we have BETTER bombs than the BAD MEN, BIG BOMBS that go BANG. they are GREAT, TREMENDOUSLY GREAT BOMBS! and we can drop them from BIG submarines. we have the BEST BOMBS and the BAD MEN will all be DEAD”
Obviously we are a long way from creditable politicians talking like that, let alone posting it on the internet, but its only a matter of time….
So here we go again; the twice yearly farce of waking up to find nobody knows what time it is. Basically the government borrows an hour off you at the start of summer and pays you back at the start of winter – I would have thought a couple of minutes “interest” would be in order.
We are now officially in British Summer Time (BST) which of course being an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) coincides with Central European Time (CET) or Western European Summer Time (WET+1) until they decide to move their clocks around too. As everyone is fully aware GMT has been replaced now by UTC which is Coordinated Universal Time or UT for short. Originally UTC was Coordinated Universal National Time which nobody could think of an abbreviation for. Perversely the military call GMT “Zulu time” for reasons that presumably are a question of national security. The Navy meantime would still be lost without “solar time”.
GMT was adopted across Britain by the railways in 1847 although in 1858 a court case upheld “local mean time” as the official time. By 1880 GMT or “railway time” was adopted nationwide. This is not to be confused with British Rail Time which meant anything they bloody well wanted it to.
During the darkest days of the Second World War Britain was effectively on “British Double Summer Time” (BDST); The British Double Summer Mean (BDSM) was abandoned as an official name as it sent the “wrong signals” to the Germans.
The clocks were not advanced for the summer of 1945 and were reverted to GMT at the end of the summer of 1946. In 1947 the clocks were advanced by one hour twice during the spring and put back twice during the autumn so that Britain was on BDST during the height of the summer.
Safety campaigners, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), have made recommendations that British Summer Time be maintained during the winter months, and that a “double summertime” be applied to the current British Summer Time period, putting the UK two hours ahead of GMT during summer.
The British Standard Time (BST) scheme was trialled between 1968 and 1971, when Britain remained on GMT+1 all year.
In 2005, Lord Tanlaw introduced the Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill into the House of Lords, which would advance winter and summer time by one hour for a three-year trial period at the discretion of “devolved bodies”, allowing Scotland and Northern Ireland the option not to take part. The Local Government Association has called for a three-year trial of the Single/Double Summer Time (SDST).
During all this “time” Greenwich has actually moved; the prime meridian is now 5.31″ E.
So… lets gets this clear. Boris Johnson, the King in the South is getting us “match fit” by proposing spending £40bn on upgrading Britain’s nuclear arsenal only weeks after offering the NHS a £500m 1% pay rise.
Breaking every nuclear non prolific arms treaty he has ever signed (albeit in wax crayon), the PM was in a Tom Clancyesque mood claiming this action is to counter the Real and Present Danger of “cyber” terrorism by Russia and China.
According to Downing street sources Boris is in a bit of a snit after discovering someone had hacked his twitter account and posted:
Experts from MI6’s Cyber Unit, National Terrorism Section (abreviation redacted) analysed the PM’s Amstrad PCW and using the highly encrypted password “Boris1234” managed to trace the digital finger print to a laptop on a golf course in the US. On investigating the scene the FBI found traces of soya sauce on the keyboard and drops of vodka in a nearby plastic cup, pointing irrefutably to government funded agencies in Beijing and Moscow.
An icon of Britain and probably the most famous timepiece in the world, Big Ben towers over that infinitely less reliable institution and the seat of British Government, the Houses of Parliament. Famously regulated by the adding or taking away of pennies to its mechanism Big Ben is used all over the world as a symbol for marking the new year. The British Budget is likewise watched the world over and regulated by the adding and taking away of pennies.
Traditionally every March the Chancellor (currently Rishi Sunak) presents his budget to a boisterous parliament, after the press has whipped up a lather of speculation and the public has sunk into a stupor of indifference. Those MPs not too inebriated to leave the duty free commons bar(s) trundle into the chamber with all the exuberance of a gang of stockbrokers visiting a strip club.
The Budget is presented by the Chancellor live on national television with all the gimmicks and showmanship he can muster. The MPs harrumph and guffaw appropriately, the heavyweights of the government squeeze in around him cosily and a jolly old time is had by all.
It is of course a total sham. The Chancellor is picked for his malleability, expendability, and briefcase brandishing capabilities and has as little knowledge of how the economy actually works as a sea cucumber does of quantum physics. The average MP doesn’t know his GDP from his RPI and the whole thing is cobbled together from stolen school maths exam papers and whatever can be retrieved from the hard drives of rusty old Civil Service computers after the vice squad have finished with them
The penny slapped on a pint of beer and the penny “slashed!” from the litre of petrol will make the next day’s tabloid headlines and the obscure, quietly mumbled “reform” of XYZ duty that will actually crap all over the average person’s disposable income will not be discovered or unscrambled until the weekend Budget Special pull-outs. By which time England will have been thrashed at a sports event and some celebrity will have climbed out of a car with no knickers on, commending interest in the budget to the dustbin.
The whole event is really just a chance for those who can be bothered, to watch their local MPs reactions in the glow of publicity radiating around the Chancellor; raising a querulous eyebrow, frowning speculatively, looking outraged and generally hamming it up whenever a camera comes in range. This is in stark contrast to everyday parliament “live” on television which consists usually of some obscure geriatric backbencher droning away interminably surrounded by a “doughnut” of wannabes, the remaining half a dozen MPs sleeping off last nights excesses on the plush green benches.
The Budget is like a cutaway window to the intricate inner workings of a stately grandfather clock – the glitter of wheels whirring away conveniently disguising the fact that the rest of the case is just a pretty empty box filled with a old rope and swinging lead.
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There are, a simple tap on the calculator concludes, 17576 different possible Three letter Acronyms available from our 26 letter alphabet. The Russians can rustle up twice as many. Their alphabet is 33 letters (35,937 combinations). I blame the KGB (КГБ), although to be fair The global use of TLAs is, as I suspected an American export, and much more recent than anybody’s alphabet. A comprehensive list of TLAs can be found at The Australian Kid’s Encyclopedia. They lay the blame for these ALBs (annoying Little Bastards; Ok, I made that one up!) firmly at the feet of FDR –
TLAs became common in the United States during the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, including NRA for National Recovery Administration[?], and TVA for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Detractors of President Roosevelt’s policies called the new agencies “alphabet soup.”
in any alphabet there are finite number of TLAs. There are certain to be overlaps and multiple uses . Ambiguities, misunderstandings and even puns are inevitably the consequence of shorter words. A quick look to see what TLA actually stands for, gives an intriguing and incomplete list:
Tom Lord’s Arch, a revision control system now known as GNU arc
The WWW, TLDs, URLs, SEO…. etc .. DOH! Three letter acronyms and the internet
AS one can quickly glean from the list above, the petri dish for spawning millions of conflicting, competing and confusing three letter acronyms was of course the internet. The early days of the internet were a veritable goldrush of TLD (Top Level domain) registrations. Small, tech savvy upstarts, jostled with organisations, big companies, and quite a few speculative individuals to establish a foothold on the new media. Short was good, short was modern, and suddenly even well established big name companies were suddenly getting hip and rebranding to three letter acronyms. In some cases slowness out of the starting blocks led to some amusing spats.
I was working for a press cuttings company in the 1980 and 1990s and some of the stories floating around certainly brightened up our nights. I can’t vouch for their veracity, some of them were probably made up!
British Airports Authority’s privatisation in 1986 and its subsequent rebranding as BAA hit a slight snag when it was discovered BAA.com had been registered by a sheep “appreciation” society. The airports authority has now changed its name to Heathrow Airport Holdings (HAH) probably causing the sheep fanciers to LOL. Incidentally BAA.com is registered by HAH, but not used. The BBC was chagrined to discover the Baltimore Basketball Club had got there first.
Initially grabbing a three letter acronym as a domain name, (you could always make up what the initials stood for later) was a fairly good way of getting the jump on a big company, but now a lot of these companies have discovered that a longer, more descriptive name will do better for their SEO.
Three letter acronyms are of course a godsend to organisations who need simple codes to describe places and things. Airlines have carrier codes, train companies have station codes, ports have codes, post offices have codes, Car registrations have a three letter element. In fact lots of three letter codes exist. some are three letter acronyms, some are not. If we take a three letter acronym to mean the first letter of a three word phrase and not just the first three letters of a word then that narrows it down… a bit.
Three letter acronyms at work.
Three letter acronyms are at their finest when working in the confines of a occupation. It is a sign of belonging to be able to rattle off a list of important sounding TLAs which can serve to disguise the true phrase behind a cuddly sounding abbreviation. The military love them. From MIA, KIA down to POW and even two TLA TLAs! (Temporary living allowance and Theater Logistics Analysis!). Police love them. DUI, ABH, GBH, ARV and share with the military, a passion for anything with tactical or strategic as the first word. The medical profession love them; a disease or syndrome hasn’t arrived until its coined a three letter acronym. Economics loves its RPI and GDP, Governments love their DOD, MOD and any starting with Ministry of, or Department of
And three letter acronyms at play
Not coy about, well, anything, sex has a whole telephone directory of three letter acronyms which you will just have to go and look up for yourselves!
Three Letter acronyms FAQ
As someone whose computer knowledge is strictly NTK, I often find myself referring to FAQs and getting TIA (Totally Incomprehensible Answers -Yes! another I made up) from ISP to DNS, FTP by LAN, SSL, PHP, CSS, XHL.. WTF! IMO we need a bigger alphabet!
Three letter acronyms and the long arm of the government
USA government agencies seem to still stick to three letter acronyms. Thanks to American TV exports everybody knows what they stand for and nobody wants to mess with butch ex-marines wearing bomber jackets with CIA, FBI, or CTU stencilled in big yellow letters on the back. Somebody should warn the National Sheep Association though.
Time zone three letter acronyms
Time spans the globe and its myriad languages. There are presently 38 different time zones. The standard measurement used to be set from GMT (Greenwich mean time), established by the lobbing of many cannonballs. This however changed in 1963 with the introduction of UTC (co-ordinated Universal Time in English and Temps Universel Coordonné in French). Apparently the French and the English argued over the abbreviation and to avoid more lobbing of cannonballs, a compromise was reached. So now we have a three letter acronym that isn’t actually a three letter acronym! Of course each time zone has its own TLA just to confuse matters.
The not so humble TXT
Mobile phones arrived in the 1980’s and became actually mobile in the 1990s. Apparently there was a little bit of signal left over and the phone companies decided to let users send short message through this spare bit for free. No one wants to type on a tiny non-qwerty phone keyboard argued the highly paid executives at the big phone companies. How wrong they were. Within a decade thumbs were being dislocated across the world as the young grabbed that almost overlooked channel as their own. They soon overcame the length limitation and often their parents! by using abbreviated code for common phrases.
Smart phones were just round the corner. Jack Bauer was in his CTU SUV, and downloading to his PDA. Qwerty keyboards, longer texting, email, messaging, and posts arrived. Grown ups got it PDQ and three letter acronyms escaped from their military, technology and utilitarian confines.
Continuing the history of past paintings and why I consider them “Keyworks” in my own development as an artist.
I remember having an big sumptuously illustrated book about the formation of the Earth. One double page spread artist’s impression featured seas of molten lava, meteorites plummeting into towering cliffs and a steamy, swirling, angry sky. The other pages featured more text, pictures of ferns and fossils, plains of placidly grazing dinosaurs and a particularly hirsute chap with a club. It was the rivers of fire and doom laden sky that grabbed my attention, not the dinosaurs or even the bloke with the club; Jurassic Park wasn’t a thing back then.
Later when I got taken to the cinema, it was the epics – on cinemascope screens that stretched for ever, a thirty foot high Charlton Heston stoically clamping his jaw and battling the odds, Ben Hur and the fleets of galleys raining fireballs from one side of the cinema to the other with the drums beating out ramming speed. I re-enacted that and all of the chariot race with my LEGO whist the soundtrack (which my mum had on record) looped around my head.
Nothing grabs our attention more viscerally than a disaster movie. whether it be brought on by act of God, aliens, weather or just our own stupidity, and I must have gone to see most of them over the subsequent years. I sat patiently through the love interest, sympathised with the expert whose warnings went unheeded (but still hoped no-one would do anything in time), and looked forward to the hopefully spectacular panorama of destruction which was the main climax of the film, and had been featured so prominently in the trailer. I gripped my seat when it rumbled (in the absence of any credible CGI, shaking the seat about was a thing), donned cardboard 3D glasses as polystyrene rubble was hurled towards me and watched in awe as yet again Charlton Heston saved the day.
Before disaster movies, alien invasions, atomic bombs, and even back before Charlton Heston, there was; the Bible.
Now, I am not religious, but I would say when it comes to apocalyptic scenarios the Bible has got all the Hollywood screen writers well beat. Coupled with faith, churches, priests and unrivalled organisational back up, this was for hundreds of years the only show in town. Pretty much every artist had to refer to the Bible. The only exception was paintings of rich people (mainly men), and stuff they owned. Paintings that pandered to popular culture had to be veiled (or in the case of nudes, unveiled) in a veneer of classical allegory or religious instruction.
I first came across these and similar works whilst studying History of Art at Working Men’s College in 1982, and I was stunned at first by the sheer scale – these are big; the biggest, the Francis Danby Deluge is 15 feet by 9 feet, and I can only imagine the effect they would have had on an audience that was both religious and unfamiliar with such vast images. All these artists were aware of each other and to a certain extent rivals. John Martin had strong mercenary streak and his large paintings were closely connected with contemporary dioramas or panoramas, popular entertainments in which large painted cloths were displayed, and animated by the skilful use of artificial light. Martin has often been claimed as a forerunner of the epic cinema, and there is no doubt that the pioneer director D. W. Griffith was aware of his work.
“It shall make more noise than any picture ever did before… only don’t tell anyone I said so.” John Martin
As a painter and printmaker I found myself gravitating towards the paintings and mezzotints of John Martin, and as my work moved toward abstraction I found my paintings strongly influenced by the mood and tone of these paintings and the feeling I had, and still have, watching apocalyptic films on a big screen. “The Deluge” has been a reoccurring title amongst my paintings since the early 1980s.
These days I am not painting cavasses as large as I did in the 1980s (although 1000mm x 1500mm comes nowhere the near the size of those earlier delugists), but I do now have a 55 inch TV set which I’m sure would make John Martin’s eyes water!
I am not, what, in modern parlance would be described as a “hard core gamer” I buy no magazines, follow no feeds, very rarely dip into forums and am completely lost when classic video games are referenced. I am a perpetual “noob”, a “scrub”, that lowest of the low; a “casual player”. I am a (slightly) overweight, balding 64 year old in a world populated by aggressive gung-ho confident 12 years olds, long time nerds who have moved on to well paid jobs in IT, and proud dads dutifully trying to bond with their offspring over their latest birthday/Christmas present. I have however always been fascinated by games and completely susceptible to immersing myself in their allure of an alternative reality.
I was, what was simply called in the 60s an awkward, difficult, or sometimes more cruelly, retarded, child. Only recently have I established that I am on what is called the “Autistic Spectrum” What bugged everybody was that I didn’t want to play with other kids, would find alternative uses for just about any toy bought for me and generally seemed to live in my own weird world. My mum had been a commercial artist, and encouraged me to draw and paint and also took control of selling the idea of reading and writing to me. I got it, eventually, and after a very slow start was reading everything I could get my hands on. My dad, an economics lecturer didn’t know what to make of me – which wasn’t surprising, as it was from his side I had inherited the AS!
By the age of eight I was reading every spare minute, even under the desk at school during classes, my head was full of other worlds; Just William, Biggles, Hornblower, Sherlock Holmes, H.G Wells, Edgar Alan Poe…
I also got bought Lego. For birthdays, Christmas, Easter and at random moments in the year – in fact any time I needed sedating. Back in the 60s Lego came in a very limited set of brick sizes, a small range of colours; mainly red and white, with grey bases and a very few yellow, blue and black pieces. I soon had the biggest Lego set of any kid at school and those uniform bricks became my passport to all the new worlds bubbling up in my confused little head. I never built the stuff on the box covers; the bricks became icons, symbols for what I wanted them to be, soldiers, sailors, spitfires, bombers, battleships, chariots, horses. I built castles, mazes, ocean liners, prisons and even an airship. I piled the bricks up, knocked them down, smashed them apart and threw them at one another, floated (and sank) them in local streams, set fire to them and generally abused the hell out of what those enlightened Danes had envisioned as a “educational toy”
In October 1967 my parents, being quite liberal, and suspecting I knew a little about it from the reading, decided to let me stay up late and watch a BBC documentary on the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We were living in a small flat in Epsom and I had my own room for the first time. The floor was black and white, a lino tile chequerboard and the bed was pushed into one corner. Later that week my mum came in to tidy the room and could hardly open the door.
The floor was a a Lego re-enactment of the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war; lines of white Lego confronting lines of red Lego with regiments, artillery, cavalry, officers and generals and a set of game rules which I can only vaguely recollect; not at all figurative – each brick on its end was a soldier, a square brick on top denoted an officer, a longer brick with a standard brick on top was a cavalryman and artillery was a combination of bricks with soldiers around it. The bricks were not “clicked together” The black and white tiles were territory, there was a currency, based the small selection of yellow bricks (gold) and some torn up writing paper “banknotes”. The whole game was essentially turn based with me lying on the bed flicking the small single spot black Lego pieces into the chosen frontline square and removing the white or red pieces depending on how they had fallen;
Face down = killed, Faceup = wounded, On the side = captured.
Survivors were promoted, squares changed hands, and currency was exchanged for prisoners, used to heal the wounded or to buy more artillery.
My mum complained about the mess and despite explanations, and protestations, eventually swept it all up.
A long series of other games ensued, I spent my pocket money on dice, roulette wheels and packs of cards and even enjoyed a brief surge of being good at maths, when the syllabus touched on probability.
In the early 1970’s I came across Pong, but after a interesting half hour or so realised its limitations and got bored.
Pong is a table tennis–themed arcade video game, featuring simple two-dimensional graphics, manufactured by Atari and originally released in 1972.
I was living in South Africa and got roped into one of the school’s rugby teams. I questioned the illogical way in which the points were awarded and had to escape to the wing, where all I had to do was wait for the ball to be thrown to me and then run like hell. A lot of the kids weren’t that keen on this weird British kid questioning their national sport, but luckily I developed a knack for speed and avoided most of the heavier tackles. I was never much of a team player. 50 years on and the points system has changed drastically, I still don’t get it!
I started a casino at school and briefly ran a book on the school sports day – an extremely silly thing to do given the strict laws about gambling in South Africa at the time; luckily the school, scared the press would hear of it, didn’t want to run the risk of the bad publicity, had no actual rule against gambling (it hadn’t occurred to them) and decided to let it run its course, confident I would learn my lesson by losing money, which of course I did, (school sports days are pretty predictable and my maths really wasn’t that good) I got a telling off and my days as a hustler were put quietly aside.
I played the average amount of arcade games in the 80s, (high score at Space Invaders in college for a couple of days) but by now I was aware of my addictive personality and started to realise some stuff should just be left alone!
As a press cuttings reader in the late 1980’s I did come across an interesting article in The Independent on why certain scoring systems are used in certain sports – tennis being a prime example; the weird scoring, game, set, and match formula is designed to make games more edge of seat for spectators (as opposed to first past the post). Don’t get me started on electoral systems (I’ll save that for another blog!)
In Harry Potter; am I the only one who thinks the scoring in Quidditch doesn’t add up?
In 1989 I became the proud owner of an Atari 1040st, but gave games a miss, settling for DTP, the cheaper black and white monitor, and “grown up stuff” with the exception of backgammon and chess. A flirtation with an F16 flight simulation program soon led to frustration when I realised I couldn’t even get off the ground, even after strafing the airbase buildings with cannon and missiles, (first by accident, then by bad temper.) The platform and puzzle games of the 1980s just didn’t interest me; (cute Italian plumbers and cuddly animals bouncing about for fruit, yearrrg!) despite having a cousin who made a small fortune as founder member of a games company in in the early 90s.
So I missed out of what many older gamers regard the golden age of computer games. I came across “Cossacks – the art of war” sometime back in the early 2000’s and played it incessantly on various PCs, even installing (with much time and effort) a 3rd party modification to update it and improve the AI, which had a previous tendency to wander about aimlessly and get stuck up hills; from the very beginning it took me back to my Lego Russian Civil war on the black and white tile floor in the Epsom flat.
So when, after much agonising we decided to get a PS3 in 2013, it was more for the Blu-ray player and compatibility with our Sony Bravia TV than for gameplaying – I was more into strategy games (which are almost exclusively a PC genre), right?
Well, if controlling vast armies, herding up peasants to dig for coal, and building factories to produce cannons is your thing (it was mine) then, yes PC, mouse and keyboard, is there for you. In fact you can do pretty much anything with a mouse and keyboard, BUT, when it comes to aiming down the barrel of a gun and moving around, jumping and dodging, without basically having to learn a strange form of typing, then a controller (as in PlayStation or Xbox) is far more user friendly.
My first experience of a games controller came with the arrival of the PS3… and Destiny; a bundled game I hadn’t even heard of, nearly took straight to the local 2nd hand game store and hated for the first couple of days.
Destiny: the lost hours
In the beginning I just couldn’t get the hang of the controller and spent the first few hours walking into walls, punching the air and falling off things. The fact was I was so unprepared for the massive leap in game graphics I didn’t move for the first 5 minutes, not realising the cutscene had finished and I could! My first gun, a battered, hideously underpowered AK47 knockoff juddered in my hands and sprayed a stuttering dribble of “bullets” at the creatures who nimbly jumped out of the way and disdainfully killed me. Eventually though I fought through the pain, got better weapons, a spaceship, travelled to other worlds, picked up a few dance moves, made a few friends , killed them in the player versus player arena and the game opened up.
The basic mechanics of this, and most computer games can best be summed up as “wash, rinse, repeat” i.e
pick up the stuff that results from this
get more powerful weapons/abilities
kill more powerful things
return to 1
A lot of game play is what players call the “grind” whereby certain activities are done repeatedly in order to slowly accumulate a high enough power to attempt the next level and so on. This is where finding team mates or being matched with random other loners comes into its own, adding variation to an otherwise stale environment and providing some genuinely quirky human moments.
There is of course a “Campaign” – a linear story illustrated with breathtakingly film like cutscenes, that rewards you with the basics to enter the final phase of the game and after all gives you a valid excuse to go round slaughtering all those pixels.
The endgame consists of increasingly more challenging patrols, missions, quests and strikes until you attempt the virtually impossible Raids, which require a well organised group possessing extremely hard to come by, supremely powerful, exotic weapons with unique attributes, able to communicate and with good team skills and a passion for the timely despatching of almost indestructible bosses. If that sounds like an online job description – that’s not far off the mark, as groups will actively recruit and interview candidates to make up Raid teams.
Needless to say I have never actually done a Raid!
In the old days it used to be a simple matter of buying the disc/cd rom/dvd, shoving it in the pc and you were in a world of your own. Games were advertised with cinema-like trailers and cutscenes that that promised much but were as far removed from the actual game play as the serving suggestions are on modern convenience food packaging. In the utilitarian world of computers games were a side product – 2 dimensional animated games of solitaire, for loners and social misfits. The internet has moved them smack bang into the middle of mainstream entertainment, The biggest games are populated by characters voiced by some of the best known actors and actresses from film, TV and stage and the majority of games are online only. Player interaction is increasingly important and with devices such as player “emotes”/animations and a much wider range of movements some genuinely laugh out loud moments spontaneously occur amongst the more inventive and irreverent players – seeing a group spontaneously form up after a public event; guitarist, drummer, and keyboard player, play to another group who danced in front of them for a short time before deluging them with grenades, people drinking tea up flagpoles, handing out popcorn or just sitting around in trees, does build a strange, but wonderful sense of online community. With downloadable content, expansions and seasons, games can be refreshed almost in real time and to the constant annoyance of players, weapons can be “nerfed” or “buffed”
In the early days of the Ps3 we did look around to see what games were available and ended up watching walkthroughs on YouTube, specifically by a player and reviewer TheRadBrad. We actually watched some back to back like they were a TV series. For most games now there is the option to share screenshots and videos of gameplay, and stream contests. Any number of forums, companion apps and websites are available for managing inventories, communicating with team mates, or looking up how to progress if stuck. The player is no longer tied to the PC or console and can arrange to meet up with a team, or clan for a future game from a phone or tablet.
Which is probably the conclusion I was looking for. Games are no longer the lone, slightly anti- social and ultimately unrewarding addiction they were once considered. They are to all intents and purposes just as worthy as watching a film, a tv series or reading a novel. and require far more participation. They can be as social as players want them to be
I have a PS4 pro now, still not big on the social side, and still really only play a couple of games, I still don’t get too involved with the formal group activities but am not averse to joining other “randoms” for some light hearted, explosion filled silliness. Other times I can spend hours enjoying the scenery and vast isolation of No Man’s Sky